With the transfer window still open and plenty of deals still to be done, August can feel like an extension of pre-season. Varying fitness levels and sometimes just pure randomness can make early results appear more representative than they really are. There are limits to how much can be ascertained from the opening games but digging beneath the surface of week one’s fixtures shows that among the fancied teams, despite the appearance of some of their results, not much has changed.
It only took one game of the new Premier League season for the excitement to ramp up to the maximum as Arsenal overcame a shaky start to beat Leicester 4-3. That the defence failed to prevent three close-range Leicester attempts from becoming goals made the quick narrative all too easy to find: the team had the same defensive problems as last year.
However, that overlooked the factual takeaway: Leicester might have scored three times, but they were the only times they landed shots on goal. Petr Cech did wander off for the first goal and the patched-up defence looked vulnerable on crosses, but overall the Gunners significantly limited Leicester’s attacking output. That’s why there’s more for Arsenal to take from this result than just the relief of victory.
Throughout, Arsenal’s attack was effective at pushing Leicester back. Even as Jamie Vardy headed Leicester in front to make the score 3-2, Arsenal had taken two-thirds of the shots in the game. From there on in, with a target to chase, the Gunners continually hammered on the door. Leicester simply couldn't stem the flow of shots and by the end of the game the count stood at 25 to six. It’s no surprise that with this volume of chance creation Arsenal were eventually able to first equalise, then find a winner to clinch the game and avoid an autopsy.
Instead, focus this week will inevitably centre on Chelsea. Even before kick-off against Burnley, squad deficiencies were highlighted by a bench featuring five players aged 21 or under. The straightforward contributor to this defeat was Gary Cahill. His early red card flipped expectations for the game and gave Chelsea a problem to solve. Burnley then scored with each of their next three shots; a freakish turn of events that's unlikely to recur any time soon. Chelsea conceded three times only twice in the league last season - the 3-0 defeat by Arsenal that drove the change to a back three and a dead rubber 4-3 victory over Watford - and it’s unlikely that this is the start of a trend.
Even with 10 men, Chelsea created shots at twice the rate Burnley did, and contrived to score while down to nine men. It's to be expected that chances are created at a higher rate by a strong but trailing side, but the personnel advantages ought to have enabled Burnley to hold Chelsea at arm's length more effectively.
The champions now face a week of scrutiny and the added problem of having lost Cesc Fabregas and Cahill to suspension ahead of the first big-six clash of the season, next Sunday’s trip to Wembley to face Tottenham.
Beyond this, superficial analysis of the weekend’s results appears to show big differences within the big six upon their return to league play. Further to Arsenal’s dramatic win and Chelsea’s defeat, we found routine victories to nil for Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham. Liverpool’s 3-3 draw at Watford was a disappointing return, primarily because the visitors to Vicarage Road relinquished a winning position. A familiar set-piece vulnerability recurred and all three of the goals they allowed were high probability chances from close to the game. Other opportunities they allowed were far less dangerous and, in that respect, their game mimicked Arsenal's.
If we look at all of the big six, two aspects within each game connect them. Despite the varying results, half of the teams conceded three goals while the other three kept clean sheets, yet not one of them allowed the opposition to take more than ten shots. Secondly, each of the six created more chances than the opposition, albeit to a different degree. The range spread from Liverpool’s plus-5 shots to Arsenal’s plus-19.
The six dominant teams in the league look likely to pick up from where they left off last season. If they continue in this vein, they will again dominate the rest of the division. They can both limit the volume of chances and have attacking prowess - we haven’t even mentioned the 17 goals they scored across their six matches. The two-tier Premier League continues.
Numbers provided by InStat.